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Interpretative Opinion 10-01: Acceptance of Gifts

March 11, 2010
 

Rokey Suleman, II
Executive Director
District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics
441 4th Street, N.W., Suite 250
Washington, DC 20001

Re: Funding for Voter Registration Data Warehousing Project

This responds to your request for an opinion concerning the propriety of you and two members of your staff accepting airfare and hotel expenses from the Pew Charitable Trusts to attend meetings on April 29 and 30 in Portland, Oregon. You stated that the purpose of the meetings is to foster dialogue among election officials who intend to participate in the pilot stage of a multistate voter registration data warehousing project which is designed to improve the accuracy of voter registration rolls. You additionally stated that the Pew Charitable Trust is a 501 (c) (3) organization with offices located in the District which is offering to support your participation in the project through its affiliate, the Pew Center on the States. You also indicated that the Pew Center on the States is not a vendor with the District, nor does it seek to become a vendor.

D.C. Official Code § 1-1106.01(c) (2001 edition) states in pertinent part, “[n]o person shall offer or give to a public official or member of the public official’s household, and no public official shall solicit or receive anything of value including a gift, favor, service, loan gratuity, discount, hospitality, political contribution, or promise of future employment, based on any understanding that such public official’s official actions or judgment or vote would be influenced thereby, or where it could reasonably be inferred that the thing of value would influence the public official in the discharge of his or her duties, or as a reward, except for political contributions publicly reported….”

18 DPM § 1803.2 states, “… [a] District employee shall not accept, either directly or through the intercession of others, any gift from a prohibited source.” Prohibited source is defined as “any person or entity that:

"(1) Has or is seeking to obtain contractual or other business or financial
relations with the District government;

"(2) Conducts operations or activities that are subject to regulation by the
District government; or

"(3) Has an interest that may be favorably affected by the performance or non-
performance of the employee’s official responsibilities.”

Based upon the information you have provided, it appears that the activity the Pew Charitable Trust intends to undertake is consistent with the mission of the Board of Elections and Ethics and your responsibilities as Executive Director. Therefore, your participation in this program does not appear to be outside of the scope activity that can be financed by the District government or in the alternative Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds. Thus, notwithstanding a shortage of existing funds through government channels, it does not appear that the Pew Charitable Trust should be a benefactor for you and your staff members to engage in activity that is clearly work related. Moreover, because the meetings will occur during regular business hours, you will remain on the government’s payroll while in attendance, which suggests that your participation has been sanctioned by the government.

Nonetheless, if indeed the only available source of funding for you and members of your staff to attend the meetings is the Pew organization, the preferred approach to receiving the funding from an outside source would require Pew to make a gift to government in the amount required to defray the cost of your travel and hotel. For specific guidance on the procedure for gifts to government, you may consider seeking advice from the Ethics Counselor for the Board of Elections and Ethics (Board), Kenneth J. McGhie.
Additionally, pursuant to 18 DPM § 1812.1, you are entitled to a published Advisory Opinion from Mr. McGhie, as the Board’s Ethics Counselor.

The foregoing is an Interpretative Opinion of the Director of the Office of Campaign Finance. Pursuant to D.C. Official Code §1-1103.05, you are entitled to request an Advisory Opinion from the Board of Elections and Ethics on this transaction or activity.

Should you have any additional questions, please contact William O. SanFord, Senior Staff Attorney at (202) 671-0550.